Legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would ban federal agencies from tracking the personal data of federal employees who have sought exemptions to President Biden’s vaccine mandate on the basis of their religions.
The Prohibiting Religious Exemption and Accommodations Databases Act (S. 3902) was introduced by Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS). It is companion legislation to a bill introduced recently in the House by Congresswoman Lisa McClain (R-MI).
Similar to its House counterpart, the Senate bill would prohibit federal agencies from sharing, disclosing, or disseminating information concerning a religious accommodation request by a federal employee beyond the minimum necessary to process the request.
It was introduced in response to reports that federal agencies had begun compiling personal data of federal employees who were seeking exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate based on their religion.
One of the databases described in the Federal Register was for the Department of Transportation. According to the description, the database was being established “to collect information from individuals seeking medical/disability and/or religious accommodations in order to approve or deny their requests.” It will cover “current DOT employees and applicants for federal employment who have requested medical/disability and/or religious accommodations.”
It said the data the agency would be collecting included “the name of the individual seeking accommodations, nature of the accommodation sought, including but not limited for religious accommodations, how complying with such a requirement would burden religious exercise, how long the belief has been held and the reason for seeking exemption.”
At least 19 federal agencies have begun compiling similar databases, and the data would be shared between federal agencies. However, the notices that were posted in the Federal Register do not specify why the data need to be shared, how long agencies plan to store the data, or why it is necessary to keep it beyond the decision to grant or deny an employee’s religious accommodation request.
Senator Marshall said in a statement about the bill:
As a nation founded on religious freedom, citizens should be confident in their government’s handling of information related to their religious beliefs and how they apply to their personal medical decisions. Instead, we have an administration that has pursued a coercive federal approach to mandatory vaccination, including fear of retribution for exercising this religious freedom. I’m proud to lead on legislation to ensure federal agencies are not exchanging and tracking Americans’ private information following the request of a religious accommodation or exemption, opening up the door for instances of discrimination based on individuals’ beliefs in the future.
As of the time of this writing, there are 11 co-sponsors, all Republicans. The House bill has 8 co-sponsors as of the time of this writing, again all Republicans. Given the current makeup of Congress and the lack of bipartisan support, it is doubtful the bill will gain much traction in the current session of Congress.